Ašända is literally a holiday particularly dedicated to women without difference in age and social strata. Of course, given the purely religious aspect, it is the holiday of young girls, since they symbolize the Holy Virgin Mary (Belay 2011: 35). Biblical history teaches us about the Assumption of Virgin Mary to heaven with the power of God (የእመቤታችን እርገት) after the end of her earthly life. Therefore, the ašända feast commemorates St. Mary. The Təgray people consider ašända as the most colourful and popular women’s feast (Habte mariam 2013: 23). There are, of course, a number of gendered cultural festivities common among theTəgray likefor example, shäwlələ , f ətfity, estina, andähəmbäy (ሽዉልል ፍትፍቲ ኧስቲና andኧህምባይ) are dedicated to women. Some of the male festivities are games and they have religious settings, e.g.Christmas, whereas others have socio-cultural and socio-political connotations(Gebreselassie 2016: 18)
Despite the spiritual background, meaning and even if the role of young and virgin girls is given more emphasis during ašända, in practice married women and young mothers participate actively in this holiday with great enthusiasm and delight. On the contrary, boy’s participation is often limited to escorting girls’ groups who move from place to place, singing holiday songs.Religious scholars and the Ethiopian clergy believe that a culture resembling today’s ašända , might have been introduced to Ethiopia before Common Era. However, it was after the introduction of Christianity in the 4th century A.D. that the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahədo church started celebrating it every year. It was during the Aksumite kingdom that this religion was declared as state religion. The ecclesiastical and legendary churches and monasteries, e.g. the Debre Damo monastry (Təgray)located in a cliff and accessed only by rope, the Gishen Church (Wällo), St. MariaZion Church (Aksum) where the mysterious Arc of the Covenant is believed to be preserved until today, processional crosses symbolizing Christianiy, churchpaintings and iconography as well as multi-fasceted artistic expressions includin greligious music just to mention but a few. Due to this fact, few research questions deserve detail discussion as this study. I believe, the following questions to be most relevant: What is the meaning ofašända? Which regional differences exist in terms of its designation and in its social and cultural manifestation? What do we encounter interns of the origin of ašända? In case of the latter, when, by whom and how was this holiday introduced to Ethiopia? Why is the ašända custom limited to Təgray and the northern Amhara regions and to some extent to southern Eritrea? Which impact has ašända on traditional, social, cultural, economic and political spheres? Why isašända an exclusively gender-focussed holiday that provides women a space to feel a distinct freedom during the holiday and embellish the celebration in a special way according to the given traditional, cultural and religious backgrounds? Why are particularly young and virgin girls ( gwal ašända =ጓል ኣሸንዳ) given great attention during this feast? What do they represent and/or symbolize? Although ašända is mainly considered as a religious holiday, there are controversies as to whether it hasa genuine religious origin. It is obvious that religious scholars claim the clearly religious feature and origins of this holiday, whereas academics and researcher srather consider it as a purely cultural secular festival (Belay 2011: 35-36).
Ašända songs, that are exclusively related with this holiday, are given special attention in this study. Accordingly, not only melodic, rhythmic and stylistic features of the songs will be examined, but correspondingly the entertaining, satirical, and epic lyrics that portray the traditional and cultural aspects as well as contents praising the Holy Virgin Mary, the beauty of ašända girls and other important issues.For analysis, selected ašända songs consisting of several song parts are part of the discussion. The songs and song parts are functional hence, they are bound to certain times and spaces. By means of transcribed staff notation, form, style, genre of the selected songs are aimed to be thoroughly discussed along with the melodic,rhythmic and metric structures/arrangements. Apart from that, the lyrical contents/messages of the songs are equally important for the interested reader. Lyrics provide an overview about holiday in general simultaneously reflecting the social,traditional and cultural backgrounds of the society. Accordingly, the lyrics are presented in the original əgrəña language along with the phonetic transliteration and the translation into English. Comments are made on each lyric from various perspectives.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that ašända is one of the most colorful holidays witnessed in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, it has lacked due scholarly attention until present day. Hence, written accounts portraying this holiday are unfortunately limited to a handful of research outcomes, magazines and flyers. Therefore, the present study mostly relies on the information provided from the oral sources.Without doubt, there is abundant information of the nearly uncovered religious and cultural background of ašända , which future investigations should look at. These are,for instance, legends, traditional stories, mythology, folk, social customs and physical folk life (i.e. material culture) and performing folk arts.
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